4 tips for keeping conversations about relationships and sex going during the teen years

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By Shannan Younger

You fulfilled your parental duty of informing your child about the birds and the bees. You’ve used proper terms for your child’s anatomy, you’ve explained exactly how babies are made, you’ve talked to your kids about the importance of protection. Now what?

To answer that question and give advice for how parents can continue the conversations with their teens about relationships and sex, I asked Kim Cook, RN, CEHS for advice. I’m thrilled that she wrote this guest blog, which combines her expertise as a nurse, health teacher and mom of three girls.

Serious conversation with your tweens and teens can be a bit of a roller-coaster sometimes, especially when talking about sex and relationships. Here are four tips to help parents navigate the twists and turns of (sometimes) awkward dialogue.

Take advantage of organic opportunities that inspire quick snippets of conversation.

Gone are the days of “The Talk.” Ongoing discussion about sex and relationships is necessary. Long, drawn-out conversations with your child may be overwhelming and uncomfortable.

As an alternative, observations of life in movies, television, music, friends, and family offer opportunities to engage your child into reflective chats. Use examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships witnessed by both of you to initiate quick 2-minute snippets of conversation.

Try this: 

“How do you feel when you hear a person describe another person as (insert terms)? Is that respectful? How might you react if someone talked to you or a friend using that language?”

Communicate respectfully.

Your child has their own unique perspective, experiences, and knowledge base. They have taken health class in school to learn the basics of sexuality.  They have witnessed their friends navigate puppy love, crushes, and serious relationships and have experienced a variety of relationships themselves.

Their value system has been shaped primarily by what has been taught and modeled at home, with a sprinkling of lessons learned within their school and social communities. Therefore, form your questions that reflect respect for their knowledge base, values, and perspective. This will cultivate a foundation of trust that will encourage more frequent and deeper conversation down the road.

Try this:

“I am not familiar with this topic (insert topic here). What do you know about it? I’m eager to learn.”

When giving the talk, don’t talk.

Young people want to be heard. It is our job to listen.

There is so much to be learned about your child when you take a moment to pay attention without interjecting your opinion or advice.  They already know what you think. Ask thoughtful questions to encourage intrinsic decision-making, rather than telling them what to do.

You may be screaming “what were you thinking” in your head – you are a normal parent – just don’t let them know that!

Try this:

Rather than, “What were you thinking?!” try “When you made that decision, what outcome were you hoping to achieve? Did you achieve that? What might you do differently next time?”

Use humor.

This stuff can be difficult to talk about. It is okay to add some humor and laughter into the conversation. Offer some funny anecdotes of your own teen years – it will allow them to see you through a lens besides “parent.”

Sharing experiences also reassures them that they are “normal” – everyone makes decisions that become “learning opportunities.”

These simple tips will help guide essential conversations with your teen and ‘tween. Building bonds of trust and respect will carry over into the adult years, which is an equally amazing and exciting time to be a parent.

Enjoy the parenting journey; you got this.

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